Nells Jazz & Blues (South Kensington)
I returned to Nells Jazz & Blues for the second time in a weekend. The first to see North West African traditional music, and this time, to see eclectic Turkish folk band Baba Zula.
Baba Zula formed as a band in Istanbul in 1996. They have since become the polar figures, pioneers and flag masters for Turkish psychedelic rock’n’roll. The eclectic mix of sounds and influences emanating from their high energy performances beams traditional oriental instruments: sounds such Özgür Çakırlar beating the darbuka drums providing thriving rhythms throughout. The saz, mastered by Murat Ertel, reminds us of the Arab influences, and screams maqqam, however untraditionally electrified. The result; dirty, at times distorted rock’n’roll saz solos over chorus-esc male singing, often in small phrases, or one word exclamations. Traditional percussion provides the much needed foot stopping dance tones, whilst contemporary electronic instruments such as sample pads, percussion machines, theremins, oscillators, effects pedals and an array of experimentation adds the modern dance, dub elements. All in all, the performances Baba Zula produce comes served as a mixed disciplinary experience, often travelling through long psychedelic instrumentals, thrashing into Hendrix inspired lute solos channeled through a wah wah pedal. The energy bursts out of every segment of the songs, often building up to wonderfully long dancing, jumping conclusions.
Periklie Tsoukalas is representing a similar look to the last time I saw the boys playing; steampunk circle glasses matched with multicoloured patched waistcoat and matching shoes, with orange trousers and a larger than life afro that bobbed to every beat. Periklies position within the band is playing the electric oud and vocals. The effects pedal at his feet becomes the most important part of the the musical make-up of Baba Zula. One minute the oud will be emanating renaissance-esc melodic phrases, then with a tap of the foot, the bass strings are creating heavy dubbed bass lines that dominate the energy of the song. With another tap, the oud becomes Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Strat’ with a 70’s wah wah bending the notes, shaping the vibe into a groovy funk dance.
With Baba Zula you journey through genres, through sounds and through themes.
Speaking of themes, the ideologies of the band members are clear throughout. With every moment of conversation between the band and the audience, they pursued the opportunity to promote a global peaceful vision. One of no borders, no discrimination and of a ‘one people’. Speaking to the audience they ask…
“Do you feel you are from a race? from a nation? Do you think you could be wrong? We can all be wrong? We are all mixed you see…
You don’t know your great great great grandfather do you? Nooo. So you could be wrong! You do not know!
We are all mixed, we are all living, in this world, in this now.
We can have and learn enjoyment”
…From here they jumped into the next grooving song, punching the peaceful energy around the room. Furthermore after every song, and in every moment of pause, the members of the band adorned the universal peace signs with their hands to the audience.
Periklie frequently triggered a pop culture reference in my head… I felt as though I were being taken back to school…. ‘The School of Rock’ to be precise, and Jack Black was telling me to “raise my goblet of rock” before “melting” my face off in this light hearted, totally rock’n’roll character, as he points around the audience before shredding on the oud.
Techno percussionist Levent Akman is known for vibing on the spoons, the maracas, all manner of mini percussions, symbols, pads, effects, whilst experimenting with electronic devices, that at times can become so overpowering the distortion can be felt from within.
A slight disappointment came in that female vocalist Melike Şahin didn’t join the band for this performance, there was also no explanation as to why.
The band came on stage around 8, and started the set jumping immediately in the deep end, opening with perhaps one of their biggest hits ‘Abdülcanbaz’, played for over 10 minutes, the eventual crescendo of the song opens the set and immediately creates the high energy reaction from the already dancing audience. Screaming in support could be heard the entire evening.
The dancing did not stop for one moment throughout the evening as Baba Zula played hit after hit demanding audience participation, which they received with an raucous passion. At one moment, the entire venue could be heard chanting “PIRASA” meaning ‘leek’ in Turkish, or as they pointed out, a word that will be accepted all across the Balkans and in Greece also.
Together the audience sung, clapped and danced the night away with Baba.
At a number of points, the audience was very literally dancing WITH Baba Zula as they spent a good couple of songs within the audience, either dancing with us, singing with us, asking us all to join them on them crouching low on the floor quietly, whilst Periklie sings acoustic traditional Arabic melismatic vocals that echoed around the small venue, all the while building up the energy by punctuating his vocals with the single strum of an extremely high powered, slightly distorted oud.
Murat Ertel also acted rock’n roll in many ways, from playing his electric sax solos behind his head in typical ‘Vaughan’ style, to traveling across the audience via chair tops, across the room to the bar, where he climbed, saz in hand, to solo on the bar top all while commuting from stage to bar whilst playing epic saz licks.
The evening at Nells was quite juxtaposed to the Saturday evening I had spent in the venue. The first evening I spent was very serious, almost silent and specialist. However this evening was quite the opposite, with upbeat dancing from moment one, the demographic seemed far more ‘excited’ than Saturdays crowd, with a high level of chatting in between songs, it was perhaps a little too loud in laughter for my liking. However, the same set up of the stage at Saturday: minimal lights and back drop ensuring upmost attention to the music and the artist. The 200 capacity at Nells really makes for an intimate show, one where you really feel as though you have seen, even met the artists.
I thouroughly enjoyed my evening with Baba Zula, and would recommend their live performance to anyone into dancing, Balkans, Turkish, Psychedelia, Rock’n’roll, shredding solos and all manner of hooligan-ary and fun, and of corse, impeccable musicianship.